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Bobby Hauck's fans are rallying in support of his return as University of Montana Grizzlies football coach in a petition that had drawn more than 2,700 signatures by Monday afternoon.

"We will cheer him on as he leads his athletes to new heights and encourages these student-athletes to be positive role models, productive community members, and quality representatives of Grizzlies athletics," reads the petition started on an eGriz.com forum.

Hauck coached the Grizzlies football team from 2003 to 2009 and racked up 80 wins, the second-highest number of victories in UM history. Griz supporters from Montana and beyond signed the letter thanking Hauck for his return, some with personal comments. 

"Bobby is a great man and coach from a great Montana family," wrote signer Dave Hahn in a comment. "He has the ability to get our football program back to dominance! Welcome home, Bobby!"

Signer Loren Lee said the decision to bring back Hauck confirms change for the better: "I suspect Hauck has learned much since his last gig at UM, as has the university."

Currently, Hauck is on staff at San Diego State University, and he earlier coached at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

The decision to hire him again at UM has revealed fractures in the community, with the petition in favor of his return coming on the heels of one opposing his hiring and a call from some faculty that UM reconsider his contract. Hauck's detractors argue his tenure contributed to a climate that led to federal investigations of the campus for mishandling sexual assault and blemished the flagship's reputation.

Monday, Athletic Director Kent Haslam said the decisions he makes will be popular with some and unpopular with others, and said there will be bumps in the road. Within the athletic department, though, Haslam said he wants to ensure the focus remains on the overall success of student athletes.

"I knew in hiring Coach Hauck that there would be no middle ground," Haslam said. "There would be a lot of emotions on both sides, and I think that's been manifest.

"But I'm excited to move forward in a really positive way and make sure that we do all we can to unify and continue to work hard to advance the mission of the university."

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UM officials have said reconsideration of Hauck's hiring is not on the table, but note Hauck will hold conversations with the campus and community about their concerns. In an earlier letter to faculty, Haslam said both he and Hauck are "absolutely committed to operating an athletic department that is focused on success in the classroom, community and competition."

Monday, Haslam said the forums with Hauck likely will be scheduled after the first of the year, and the coach is eager to take questions: "He's anxious to get out to the community and across campus. We just need to get him here and get his family here."

The contract with Hauck sets requirements for player conduct off the field. One section requires the coach, his assistant coaches and football student athletes to "foster a culture of collaboration within the department, across campus, and within the community." Last week, Haslam noted the NCAA recently mandated that student athletes have sexual harassment training — a requirement UM instituted five years earlier.

In their petition, supporters of Hauck note they fully expect him to create a positive, caring and inclusive culture within his team. They also expect he will use the student athlete code of conduct to appropriately discipline players who fail to be positive representatives of the team, UM, and the Missoula community.

"Coach Hauck has had a tremendous role and influence in the positive development of hundreds of student-athletes during his tenure with the University of MT," reads the petition. "Many of these former athletes have voiced their strong, supportive opinion of Coach Hauck during this hiring process.

"We fully support and expect Coach Hauck and his staff to continue to be a positive influence in helping each of these student-athletes reach their full potential."

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